Manga Monday #4: Absolute Boyfriend by Yuu Watase (vol. 1-3)

*Warning, this post contains minor spoilers!*

I’m not going to lie, I was initially leery of this series because of the “scandalous” cover of the first volume, which features a mostly naked man. I didn’t want to buy it in stores because I didn’t want the cashier at Borders to judge me, so I ended up buying the entire series online. Bear in mind, I was an awkward teenage girl at that time.

However, I do remember loving this manga, because I also binged both the Japanese and Taiwanese drama adaptations (Japanese first – the Taiwanese one wasn’t out yet). I also splurged on another of Yuu Watase’s works, Alice 19th, which I will be revisiting later for this blog series. But will Absolute Boyfriend stand the test of my growing cynicism and jaded view of the world?

~Reading Break~

Absolute Boyfriend follows Riiko Izawa, a 16-year-old girl who yearns for a boyfriend. After a string of rejections and a chance meeting with a mysterious salesman, Riiko ends up in over her head when a boyfriend is delivered right to her door. The problem is… he’s a cybernetic doll, and he’s determined to prove to Riiko that he can be her “ideal boyfriend,” which causes mayhem in Riiko’s life. But can Riiko develop a real relationship with a man who isn’t?  Absolute Boyfriend ran from 2003-2005 and was completed at 6 volumes.

After re-reading the first 3 volumes, the points that appealed to me on my first read-through continued to resonate. Absolute Boyfriend is a series that relies on familiar tropes, but presents those elements in a fresh, and sometimes unexpected, way.

Riiko is an understandable heroine and a believable teenage girl. She’s sixteen, she makes mistakes, she’s awkward, and she struggles with her budding feelings for Night as well as her confusion over her interactions with childhood friend, Soshi. She also has a (somewhat hilarious) violent streak, and she grapples with money problems, jealousy, betrayal, and the stresses of high school. Night, the “absolute boyfriend” of the title, is a combination of chivalrous, hilarious, and frustratingly naive, as his actions and his stalwart dedication to Riiko constantly cause trouble for her and threaten to expose his true identity. He’s an enjoyable and charming lead, although his outbreaks of jealousy and occasional violence are a drawback. However, since he’s programmed to Riiko’s tastes, his possessiveness serves a dual purpose; it shows both Riiko and the reader what can happen when a boyfriend acts that way. Soshi, the last lead, is a typical “boy next door,” but he shows some unique traits that separate him from the stereotype. He’s loyal and sure of his feelings for Riiko, but also shy and uncertain when he compares himself to Night.

Though the “love triangle” bit is a common trope in shojo manga (and the YA genre in general), Absolute Boyfriend goes about it in a way that doesn’t feel overused. I know they’ve been beaten into the ground, but honestly, I love a good love triangle if it’s done well or done in a unique fashion, and this one does strive to separate itself from the pack, especially since one member of the triangle is an AI. All three sides of the triangle – Riiko, Soshi, and Night – also function independently of one another, so their complex romantic entanglements, despite serving as the crux of the story, don’t become the sole focus. There’s plenty of other issues and story-lines going on in this manga, so the love triangle doesn’t feel like a stale addition to a tired plot.

Also, this is the first shojo manga I read that really delves into the topic of sex in a relationship, and it’s handled very well. Riiko must sleep with Night in order to make him “permanently” hers, so he can never be claimed by another, but she says she doesn’t want to take a step like that until she’s truly in love and is ready for it. Despite constant pressure by Gaku – the Kronos Heaven employee who helps her out with Night – she doesn’t relent in her decision to wait until she’s certain she wants to progress the intimate nature of her relationship with Night, and I think it’s a good message to send. The manga isn’t “sex negative” or anything – in fact, it comes across as positive – but stresses the idea of people being ready for such a step at different times, which is nice to see acknowledged. There’s some other progressive ideas inserted into the story as well, which I didn’t remember from my first read-through, but appreciated seeing on a reread.

There’s also a nice blend of humor and drama/romance in the plot over the first 3 volumes. Riiko battles with recognizable issues, often with comedic setbacks and dramatic conclusions, and the story’s pacing is well-balanced. The serious parts don’t overwhelm and drown out the comedy and vice versa. The narrative explores a unique question about artificial intelligence, genuine emotion, self worth, and the potential drawbacks and positives of building romance, and it does so in a way that feels fresh and new, even though the series is over a decade old.

Yuu Watase’s art is also excellent; I love her character designs, as it’s clear that a ton of effort has gone into them. The different textures and inking is also very impressive, and I remember being just as struck by it back when I read it the first time as I was on this reread. The art style also lends itself well to humorous parts of the story; the facial expressions and reactions are on point, and I actually chuckled out loud during a few panels, which is due to the art as well as the content.

Overall, I’ve enjoyed my reread of Absolute Boyfriend so far – it’s definitely one that should not be judged by the cover, as I’ve found it more compelling than the brief summary and a glimpse of the cover art would imply. I look forward to re-experiencing volumes 4-6, and see if my reaction to the conclusion will change!

 

 

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What Could Have Been

As I’ve mentioned before, my debut novel I’m With You underwent many changes from inception to publication. The original story I envisioned was vastly different from the final version, and, just for funsies, I thought I’d list some of the things that “could have been” had I kept on along the initial route…

Minor spoilers ahead! You have been warned!

1.) Ciarán did not exist.
Ramus was originally intended to be the narrator, but his role was also different than his final incarnation (see below). I added Ciarán because I wanted to show the main characters through the eyes of a different party, and did not want Ramus’s perspective to paint the narrative. I thought the themes and the lessons would be better portrayed through the eyes and in the voice of a teenager, especially since I was aiming for a YA audience, so Ciarán was created to fill that role. And I’m glad it was his voice that told the story.

2.) Ramus (and Valkyrie) were hit-men.
The original plan had Ramus and Valkyrie serving as hit-men from the same nefarious organization. Ramus is hired to eliminate Remiel by her paranoid grandfather, but Ramus ultimately turns against his employers and decides to save Rem instead, and he recruits Valkyrie to help him get her to safety with some family members across the country. So, there are some similarities, but I nixed the hit-man idea when some other plot elements were changed and new characters were introduced. Also, there would have been a lot more violence and fighting. The Ramus/Valkyrie relationship was mostly the same, however, though instead of being established before their introduction, it would have been over the course of the narrative.

3.) I’m With You was intended to be a trilogy.
Back when I had very lofty ambitions for the layout of the story, I figured it would take about three books to tell the whole tale. However, there were several different sub-plots going on that were eventually discarded. Valkyrie was going to become a “villain” of sorts, and there was an arc that would feature a “world war” type of event… but in the end, it was way too convoluted and confusing and I couldn’t quite scrape up enough plausible detail to weave all the events I wanted together into a cohesive tale. The main story was supposed to be “get Remiel to safety” and as I kept adding more and more, it strayed further and further from the point. After I sliced down the scope of my ideas and shuffled the remaining elements together, I was left with enough content to fit within the pages of a single book. And I’m super glad that it ended up as one novel instead of 3.

4.) Kaz and Kia were originally twins…
…and both were villains. Kia was originally envisioned as an acrobat in a circus, and Kaz, her brother, was still a fire-juggler. They were to be villains in the second main arc of the story, enlisted by the second main antagonist. That is why their names and origins are similar; both got an age-change in the final version, as Kaz is 30 and Kia is 25ish.

5.) Dahlia was the main villain.
She was also known by the moniker “The Boss,” as she ran the organization that the hit-man versions of Ramus and Valkyrie were involved in. Markone also did not exist in the original plan. Dahlia and Valkyrie also would have ended up having a child, though they weren’t in a “relationship” – Valkyrie was more or less forced into a liaison with her. Long story. Obviously, that changed quite a lot.

6.) Most character descriptions were changed.
Camilla originally had black hair and brown eyes, but ended up blonde and blue-eyed. Valkyrie had two-toned hair; brown and red, but he ended up with auburn. Kaz was bald, I believe, and Dahlia was a little older and had red hair. I think the only characters who kept the same exact appearance/physical description were Remiel and Ramus, though Remiel was younger in previous plans.

7.) Mitzi was a minor character.
The original “party” for the story was Ramus, Remiel, Valkyrie, and Camilla – as previously mentioned, Ciarán didn’t exist, Kaz was a villain, and Mitzi was a minor supporting character in what I envisioned to be the second book of the trilogy. She had a very similar temperament, but was employed by a government organization and would end up working against her employer to help the main crew. When the plot shifted around, I decided to include her in the main party because her personality added a bit more balance to the rest of the characters.

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) and paperback is $9.99 on Amazon Amazon UK. 

 

Manga Monday #3: Full Moon o Sagashite by Arina Tanemura (vol. 4-7)

WARNING! This post will contain SPOILERS!

The previous post, which discusses volumes 1-3, can be found here!

Now, after starting the series several years ago and failing to finish it, I have finally read all of Full Moon o Sagashite!

It’s a unique feeling to read a manga like this now, in my twenties, as opposed to in my teens. My mentality on certain matters has changed a lot over the last few years, so while I’m sure 15-year-old Allie would be squealing with joy over how adorable this manga is, 25-year-old Allie is less enthusiastic. However, I will say that the manga comes to a pretty satisfying conclusion without any glaring loose ends, which is a major plus.

While I’m glad the story picked up a lot of traction as opposed to the early volumes, I did find some of the story-lines rushed during the latter portion of this series. I personally felt that Takuto’s emerging love for Mitsuki went from “I might have feelings for this girl” to “I AM DEEPLY, PASSIONATELY IN LOVE WITH HER” in an extremely short amount of time, and Takuto became pretty one-dimensional afterward, except for a moment where he asserted his partnership with Meroko in the final volume. I realize that this is a recurring theme in many shojo manga, but in case of Full Moon, I did find it to be a detriment. Takuto also gets a little forceful with Mitsuki at times, which I did not like. The inclusion of Hikari as a wrench in Mitsuki and Takuto’s blooming relationship also struck an off-note with me, as she felt more like a device than a full-fledged character, especially since that thread of the story was brief.

I mentioned in my last post that I disliked how young Mitsuki was while grappling with such intense emotions, but I do think that improved in volumes 4-7, as the reasoning behind her feelings gets explored more thoroughly. She knew that Eichi was dead, but was unwilling to let go of him, and that stirs up a mess of confusing emotions once Takuto throws himself into the ring and expresses his love for her. Mitsuki’s reluctance to move on felt very real, and like a very plausible reaction for a girl her age to have when experiencing such complex emotions, especially considering the other problems she’s dealing with, such as running away from home, handling her Fullmoon alter ego, etc. Over volumes 4-7, Mitsuki really grew on me; she retains her sugar-sweet personality throughout the series, but she also shows her vulnerabilities and a much more viable anger than she expresses early on. And watching her learn and adapt to difficult emotions, and puzzle out her warring feelings for Takuto and persistent dedication to Eichi, made her a much more likable and relatable heroine.

Also in a complete reversal from last time, I enjoyed Meroko’s story-line a lot more than I did during volumes 1-3. Finally getting the backstory as to why she acts the way she does and why she struggles so much with her insecurities and feelings of  “love” provided a greater insight into her character, and I loved the interaction she had with Fuzuki. As her motivations became clear, her character grew much more likable, and I appreciated the insight into Izumi’s former life as well. Izumi starts off as a “darker” character than Meroko and Takuto, so that peek into his past and his relationship with his mother created a more sympathetic view of his character, especially when he shows vulnerability to Mitsuki. The shinigami are so cute with their outfits and animal alter-egos, it’s easy to forget how they got to that point – they are only shinigami because they committed suicide. So seeing their tragic backstories unfold and having them work together to convince Mitsuki to choose life gains a much more powerful meaning, considering they know better than anyone what it means not to have one.

Also, side-note, not a fan of the Madoka/Nachi plot in general. FIRST OF ALL, where did Nachi come from? Did I miss his introduction somehow? He like, appeared in volume 4 but I had no memory of him prior to that, though that might be an error on my end. But just the idea that plastic surgery is what brought them together really rubs me the wrong way. It’s like “look at me, I changed my face to be good enough for you!” I really disliked the delivery of that message, and felt the plot-line could have been tweaked a bit so it wouldn’t come across as so shallow. I also thought the romance between Ms. Oshige and Dr. Wakaoji started off at a nice pace, then sprinted to a resolution; it more or less jumped from getting together to getting super serious in a pretty short amount of time. I would have liked to see more exploration into their developing feelings for one another, rather than surface-level observations.

Plot-wise, Iloved the Jonathan twist, as I did NOT see it coming. Also, I thought the introduction of Sheldan (the shinigami’s boss) was handled pretty smoothly, as he remained fairly mysterious throughout, but Mystere was kind of forgettable. They didn’t get much page-time, but their character designs were excellent.

And, just a suggestion… if you’re someone who skips the little mini-comics at the end of most volumes, I recommend reading the ones in this series. They are hilarious.

The ending is predictable, but it’s still nice to see all of the character development and the various stories get tied up in a nice, neat bow at the close of volume 7. there’s something oddly refreshing about a happy, if a little bittersweet, ending, and seeing the characters you’ve grown to love come to a solid resolution by the final pages.

Despite my gripes, Full Moon o Sagashite provides a compelling balance of romance, drama, comedy, and a sprinkle of magical girl tropes that may continue to draw new readers, even though the initial run of the series ended long ago. Despite some leaps in logic and a few cliche bits of narrative, and a few portions of the story that struggle to hit the high notes, this charming series is a must read for shojo manga fans, if only just to appreciate Tanemura’s great artwork. Though I’ve become a cynic in my old age, I imagine teenage manga fans might find themselves more engrossed and drawn into the story than I was.

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK. 

Film Review: Home Again (2017)

Dir. Hallie Meyers-Shyer
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Michael Sheen, Nat Wolff, Pico Alexander, Jon Rudnitsky, Candice Bergen
Rating: PG-13
Runtime: 1hr37m
Spoiler level: Light

This past Tuesday, for the first time in ages, I went into a film without looking at the RT score. I saw the trailer a couple of times, chuckled a bit, and decided that I wanted to see it based on that, and it turned out to be a wise move; the RT score is currently at 35%, but I still loved the film!

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By Source (WP:NFCC#4), Fair use, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54570184

Home Again follows newly-separated and newly-40-year-old mother of two Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), the daughter of a renowned filmmaker, who, while attempting to rebuild her life, ends up offering her guest house to 3 aspiring 20-something filmmakers. Naturally, as the boys lives become entangled with her own, Alice learns how to let go, move on from the past, and embrace the future.

The story is straightforward and solid, but many plot points are predictable; Alice striking up a romance with Harry (Pico Alexander), her ex-husband Austin (Michael Sheen) re-entering the picture and stirring up a whole bunch of tension, the boys negotiating with producers and directors on their dream project, etc, but don’t let the familiar premise fool you; the narrative does contain a few (mostly pleasant) surprises. While there’s shades of tales told many times before, there are a couple of fresh twists to keep the viewers guessing or hoping for a particular outcome. There’s a smooth balance of humor and drama, though perhaps less romance than a traditional rom-com, as the film takes the time to explore a variety of real-life issues, such as ambition versus reality, turning a new page, and taking risks.

The exploration of numerous ideas is both a boon and a bane, as there are times where the film feels as though it is stretched too thin and tries to do too much, so certain plot-lines don’t get as much resolution or attention as they deserve. Issues get resolved in a “last minute” fashion, almost like an afterthought. For example, there’s a plot device about Alice’s deceased father being a filmmaker that is intriguing, and is a stepping stone for Alice connecting to her three unlikely house guests, but sort of gets discarded in the latter half of the film. The music and montages seem to aim for an old Hollywood type feel, but at the same time, the tone doesn’t remain consistent. When the boys get into an argument, it gets resolved in a disproportionately swift manner compared to the set-up. As such, the pacing suffers a bit, as resolutions don’t live up to the set-ups, but regardless of this, the film doesn’t drag – I found myself engaged throughout.

The cast also delivers; Witherspoon carries the film with a charming performance that reflects both strength and vulnerability as a woman dealing with a new start at 40 years old. The 20-something trio (Nat Wolff, Jon Rudnitsky, Pico Alexander) all shine in a unique way, particularly Rudnitsky as George. Michael Sheen and Candice Bergen are also great in their roles, despite having less screen time, and both of the children (Lola Flanery and Eden Grace Redfield) were delightful in their supporting roles, and looked like they could be the actual children of Witherspoon and Sheen.

Honestly, the film is not awards fodder, but it provided me with a fair amount of laughs, and even if it treads familiar ground, it conveys a message that doesn’t get old despite multiple re-tellings. If you need an enjoyable way to pass a rainy afternoon or have a couple of hours free in the evening with nothing else to do, and you enjoy a decent rom-com for a bit of light-hearted fun, this film is a treat. Or, you know, if all the showings of It are sold out, this is a nice, if not comparable, alternative.

Overall rating: 7/10

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK. 

Manga Monday #2: Full Moon o Sagashite by Arina Tanemura (vol. 1-3)

While scanning my shelves for the next series to revisit, I tried to remember the first time I read Full Moon o Sagashite by Arina Tanemura, but drew a total blank. After some more thought, I realized that, although I’m pretty sure I’ve read at least the first couple of volumes, I never finished it. And I’ve never seen the anime. So, although I have a vague idea of what the premise is (I know singing and shinigami are involved)… I have no idea how it ends. So let’s fix that, starting with volumes 1-3!

~Reading Break~

20170909_103548Full Moon o Sagashite follows Mitsuki, a 12-year-old girl who suffers from a fatal sarcoma in her throat, but her dreams of a singing career and reuniting with her lost love Eichi prevent her from undergoing the operation that will save her life. When two shinigami appear to intercept her fate, Mitsuki is granted the ability to transform into a healthy, 16-year-old version of herself so she can spend the last year of her life accomplishing her goals. The manga ran from 2002 – 2004 and was completed at 7 volumes.

Now, I’m pretty sure, when I read this several years ago, I only got through volumes 1-3. I bought the first 3 volumes back when Borders was still around (they closed in 2011) and collected the rest from online retailers over the years, but never finished the series. But I do remember really loving the premise and the story, so although I’m not sure why I never finished it, I’m determined to amend that!

After volume one, I wasn’t too invested in the characters or the narrative. Mitsuki is a really, really sweet protagonist; but almost unrealistically so. Maybe I’m just jaded (very likely) but she’s so nice and selfless it comes across as almost… grating. Even her rare moments of anger are tied to how kind and caring she is, as she’s usually angry on someone else’s behalf. She reminds me a bit of a sugar-coated version of Tohru from Fruits Basket (which I will be rereading for this series) but her endless cheer and optimism makes it difficult to connect with her, though she did grow on me a little during the next two volumes as her vulnerabilities (besides her illness) are made clear.

One half of the shinigami team, the bunny-eared Meroko, also irritated me quite a lot, though the small peek into her history during a side story in volume 3 was a nice glimpse into why she acts the way she does, and makes me curious about her past life. However, the other half, Takuto, intrigued me from the start. As his story unfolds, showing how close he was to Mitsuki’s life when he was alive, his history with singing, and the circumstances of his death, I found myself more drawn into his story than anyone else’s. But Izumi, another shinigami with a somewhat darker personality and outlook, is my favorite, so that probably explains the sort of character personalities I’m drawn to in stories like this. The shinigami are responsible for most of the humor (one panel with Jonathan, Izumi’s partner, had me actually laughing out loud) but also provide a unique commentary on life/death and repercussions of drastic decisions, which I look forward to seeing more of in later volumes.

Although the plot has a bit of a stuttering start (lots of shinigami rules and intricate plot details get thrown around during the set-up phase, plus a lot of saccharine fluff from Mitsuki) the plot really starts to pick up in volumes 2 and 3, as the complexities of the shinigami roles and the truth behind Mitsuki’s past unravel. The plot starts off fairly light-hearted as Mitsuki embarks on her signing career as “Fullmoon” with help and hilarious commentary from Meroko and Takuto, but it does get pretty deep starting in the second volume, providing an engaging balance between comedy and drama. A couple of plot twists seem a little forced and out-of-nowhere (Dr. Wakaoji’s identity, for instance) but other revelations (Oshige and her boss, Takuto’s past, and the big reveal at the end of volume 3) unfold in a more organic, natural fashion, which makes me eager to read volume 4 and see what happens next. It’s not all sugar and rainbows, and now, 3 volumes in, I both dread and eagerly anticipate how certain info-bombs will impact the story going forward.

I will say that Mitsuki being twelve does bother me a lot more now that I’m older. Even though she can transform into a 16-year-old when she’s her alter ego, “Fullmoon,” she’s still like… a literal child. So some plot points and interactions with characters comes across as creepy to me, instead of sweet. For instance, when Eichi told her he loved her, he was 14 and she was 10. Why is a 14-year-old boy confessing love to a ten year old? I do not find that cute, sorry. I get that the circumstances are different (they grew up together in an orphanage, she helped him through personal struggles and vice versa, they supported one another when they had no one else) but the gap just makes me find Mitsuki more naive than anything else. But, like I said before, maybe I’ve just grown jaded in my old age.

The art is fantastic, especially if you’re a fan of intricate, ultra-cute-style character designs. Mizuki is a memorable character, and her hairstyles are exceptional. The costumes for the shinigami are adorable, but also make them stand out and implies hints into their personalities – Takuto is really finicky and hot-and-cold, like a cat, for example. It’s an art style that might not appeal to everyone, since it lends itself more to the cute/big-eye trend, but it’s pretty standard for a magical-girl series and I found it very appealing, since it’s easy to differentiate between the characters due to how distinct they are.

All in all, Full Moon o Sagashite provides an interesting blend of humor, romance, and compelling questions about death, life, and second chances. Even if it’s difficult to connect with the too-sweet heroine, the mysteries of the side characters make me want to keep reading, and the plot really starts to gain traction as the drama and emotional points overtake the comedy and fluff aspects. Next Monday, we’ll finish off this series with volumes 4-7! Stay tuned!

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK. 

 

Writing Rewind #11: Wings of Fate Chapter 7 Part 2

It’s been a few weeks since our last jaunt into the world of my hideous past writing, and I was only just starting to recover… but it’s time to go back and knock out the rest of chapter 7.

Last time, we were introduced to two new major players in Major Leiter and Major Tango, and, after being busted for hiding Shirotaka in his room, Heiwa has been led to meet with General von Schneider. What suffering is store in wait for him? Let’s find out, in pat 2 of Chapter 7: The Mission Revealed!

KEY/GUIDE:
Strikethrough = cut out
Highlight = rephrase/reword/awk
Blue highlight = minor additions
DANGER RED HIGHLIGHT= massive cringe
Green highlight – switch/move

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Starting strong, as always.

Verbose, verbose, verbose. Much like my hair, this selection is in need of a good trim. And a good re-work.

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Also, for a man who is meant to be so cold and intimidating, General von Schneider’s dialogue does not lend itself to that idea. He needs to be less wordy, more cutting. And also, the build up to the big reveals in this chapter is way too long. It draws out the suspense, but not in a good way.

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Same ideas conveyed in a more efficient manner. Moving on, Heiwa gets taken to Dr. Black’s quarters, which are covered in pictures of a mysterious woman…

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Ugh. I really fail at descriptions. Admittedly, I still struggle with it, but I do like to think I’ve gotten at least a little better since these dark days.

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I do wonder if I can go an entire chapter without mentioning eye color. Somehow, I doubt it…but that one red bit in there is certainly overkill.

Also, this section is just wordy and awkward. So it’s time to trim and tame!

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Now, the set-up to Dr. Black’s motivations is a bit more streamlined, without losing any of the actual content. Less clunky, and with improved flow, so it doesn’t drag… at least, not as much.

Moving on, Heiwa is reunited with Shirotaka, and Dr. Black starts to get into the real nitty-gritty of what the mission is about. He shows the pair some artifacts, and the explanation begins…

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*sigh* This… is… awful.

I guess because I thought the explanation was going to be confusing, I had to cram every little detail into Dr. Black’s little monologue. But really, it’s not necessary to bog the explanation down so meticulously.

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Really, that entire block is a massive cringe, and needs a massive overhaul. Other than that, it’s just the usual nit-picks and recurring problems. Also, Heiwa doesn’t need an overload of “How can this be?” “Can this be true?” “How is this possible?” wondering every single time he gets an info-bomb dropped on him.

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Look how much shorter this is! And, at least on my end, the explanation still seems fairly clear, at least for the time being. The info-dump is not as drastic, which allows for a less overloaded chapter. It’s still overloaded, of course, but I can at least lessen the damage.

Next, Dr. Black’s explanations continue…

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So, Shirotaka’s people, the mysterious Seijaku, can bring the dead back to life. What a twist! But this portion still requires a bit of a makeover.

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Dr. Black’s dialogue is still too wordy, and that eye-reference needs to go. Far, far away, never to return. The reveal in this passage, that the Seijaku can resurrect the dead, loses some impact when it’s surrounded by so much fluff.

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There; less talk, more… I don’t know, moving forward?

After this, Dr. Black explains that Shirotaka likely has amnesia, but he expects her memories to eventually return. However, when he asks Heiwa for help, Heiwa declines, as he feels something “off” about the mission. Therefore, Dr. Black needs to persuade him. So, if the Seijaku’s incredible power is divided in two, obviously, the second part is…

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Ah, the old “using terminally-ill mother as a bargaining chip” trick. What a low blow!

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The use of “she” and “his mother” also needs to be tweaked, as it gets muddled during Heiwa’s inner monologue. Overall, though, this passage needs the usual treatment. A little snip and polish!

Here’s the result:

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Heiwa obviously agrees to help Dr. Black in order to potentially help his mother. So, Heiwa will now be serving as the “go-between” for Dr. Black whenever Shirotaka remembers something that could be useful for the mission.

But where will Shirotaka stay? The room next to Heiwa is occupied by Major Tango (which was news to Heiwa) so alternate arrangements must be made…

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Such a “funny” turn of events loses the humor when it’s too long-winded, which means some changes must be made.

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Hopefully, cutting out some unneeded tidbits and reworking some awkward phrasing will make this passage flow better.

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And there we have it! Chapter 7 is at a close, and the mission has been revealed! Heiwa might get to uncover an ancient civilization, and save his mother all at once! Though, of course, it won’t be so easy…

Next time, we depart from the mission-based focus and get more into the psyche of the commanding officers, as well as the  lamentable romance subplot from this travesty of a story. And is that a love triangle I hear in the distance? Or could it be…a love square? Rhombus? Trapezoid? Idk. There’s four people in it. Next time is Chapter 8: The Hated Day.

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK. 

On Monday, we have another Manga Monday, this time about Full Moon O Sagashite by Arina Tanemura. I own the entire series, but I don’t think I ever finished reading it for some reason, so I’m looking forward to it!

 

Manga Mondays #1: Beauty Pop by Kiyoko Arai

Back in my teenage years, I was a big-time manga collector, and now, in my twenties, I still have shelves full of different volumes and series. While my anime preferences trend more toward the action-based/sci-fi/fantasy/mecha titles, like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Wolf’s Rain, Inuyasha, Attack on Titan, Last Exile, and Cowboy Bebop, my manga tastes stray more toward the “girly” fare. And one such series is Beauty Pop by Kiyoko Arai, which ran from 2003-2008 and was completed at 10 volumes.

I read Beauty Pop quite a few years ago, and all I remember is that it’s about cutting hair and I thought it was hilarious. Also, the lead female was a bit unconventional for a shojo title. But that’s all I’ve got, so it’s time for a reread!

~READING BREAK~

Alright! I initially planned on reading just the first 3 volumes for this post, but ended up powering through all 10 because I got sucked in, just like I did when I read it all those years ago. Beauty Pop follows 1st year high-schooler Kiri Koshiba, a girl with a gift for hair-styling, and her interactions with the S.P., or Scissors Project, a club run by 2nd year Shogo Narumi and his friends Kazuhiko Ochiai and Kei Minami, who are determined to be the top makeover/stylist team in Japan. Naturally, many hair-related hi-jinks ensue.

20170904_084322.jpgOverall, the series has a nice, meandering pace; there are over-arcing stories that run through the course of the series, but also several smaller, more episodic narratives that unfold in conjunction with the major plot-lines, and they are well balanced, so the story never loses the flow. A couple of the side stories kind of fall flat, but overall, the narrative is charming and engaging. The character relationships are also handled exceptionally well; there is as much, if not more, focus on friendship between the main cast (Kiri and her best friend Kanako get a nice subplot, Ochiai and Narumi have a lot going on, and lots of minor characters who encounter the S.P. have interesting and relatable issues to face) than there is on the romance. Typical “real world, growing up” problems are also handled  and touched upon quite a lot, as the characters grapple with decisions that will impact their futures, their relationships with family, their education, and their ties to friends. The more romantic elements are hinted at and briefly explored in the early volumes, but don’t really progress until the last 3, so it isn’t the main draw of the plot. This is not the standard, but the plot of the manga is definitely more focused on the comedy/slice of life/coming of age stories, which is a nice change in tone from more “dramatic” titles in this genre. Plus, the emphasis on hair-styling/makeup is intriguing, as it allows for exploration into personal ideas of beauty and the way society looks at people versus how they should be seen.

For example, in one bit, Kiri gets blamed for something that happens to the S.P. club room after she winds up in the wrong place at the wrong time, and instead of immediately assuming that she did it and getting angry, Narumi asks her about it, she says she didn’t do it, and he believes her. I half expected him to fly off the handle and go on a total rage campaign against her in a fit of manufactured drama, but no – she says she didn’t do it, and he accepts her word. It’s a great way to show how their relationship has grown to that point, and to subvert some familiar tropes of the genre.

Beauty Pop is also more of an ensemble effort than it is focused solely on one character. Some get more page-time than others (Kei, for example, doesn’t get any chapters where he is the main focus, and neither do Iori and Seki) but most of the characters get a fair amount of development and show real growth over the series. This allows for a greater range of stories to be told, as readers glean insight into Narumi’s confrontational relationship with his father, Ochiai’s ambitions clashing with his personal relationships, Kiri’s personal history with hair-styling, Kanako’s struggles to juggle friendship and love, and Billy’s difficulty choosing between duty and family.

Also, the art is great; it isn’t flashy, but the characters all have a unique style, and there isn’t anything too distracting that draws away from the story. All the different hair-styles are also cool to see, as Kiri and Narumi work their magic on a plethora of side-characters.

As I remembered, Kiri is definitely an unconventional shojo heroine, which makes this series stand out from several others. She has a laid-back, generally aloof personality that clashes spectacularly with her high-strung, temperamental counterpart, Narumi. She’s hilarious, a real breath of fresh air, and a good chunk of her story focuses on past trauma and whether she truly wants to be a beautician, and her struggles coming to terms with her dreams and her past. My only quibble with Kiri as the heroine is that, when the inevitable love triangle rears its head, you don’t get much of her perspective, especially in the later volumes. However, on the flip side of that, there is a lot of emphasis put on the two male characters of the triangle, which, at least in my experience with manga, goes a bit against the grain. But, since Kiri’s thoughts on the matter are barely touched upon, the ending doesn’t pack quite enough emotion as I would have hoped for. But in terms of the general “building up” of the romance over the course of the volumes, the progression is subtle for the most part. Narumi’s initial derision for Kiri fades slowly as they learn more about one another and gradually start to work together, but their interactions develop in a way that feels organic and natural. Ochiai’s blossoming crush on Kiri has an impact on his friendship with Narumi, as he mainly struggles with his budding feelings on his own until the triangle reaches a climax, though Kiri and Kanako’s friendship does suffer a minor snag once Ochiai’s motivations become more clear. So, although the triangle is such an overdone trope, it doesn’t feel hastily thrown in; most sides get a fair amount of development, but I wish we could have had more of Kiri’s perspective. I will say, now, as an adult, some of the “romance” comes across as more “stalkery” or “cringey,” but isn’t really presented as such. Then again, maybe I’m just out of touch.

When I first read Beauty Pop as a teenager, I was drawn in by the comedy and the unusual focus on hair-styling and beauty, and now, all these years later, that allure still rings true. I didn’t laugh quite as much as I did, but I was still drawn in by the story and the characters. It’s a light-hearted title that presents familiar tropes in an unconventional and unexpected fashion, breathing new life into a genre that can easily get stale.

Shameless plug: My book tour for my YA novel, I’m With You, is still ongoing! Check it out here: LINK! Plus, the ebook is only $1.99 or (£1.55) on Amazon Amazon UK.